The migrants — who say they are traveling in search of jobs, better lives for their families and an escape from gang threats and violent communities — were blocked at the Honduras-Guatemala border for several hours Monday by Guatemalan police in riot gear before being allowed to pass. They made camp for the night at a Catholic school in the southern city of Esquipulas and continued north Tuesday morning.
Trump has made such migrant caravans a symbol of all that is wrong with U.S. immigration policies. Earlier this year, Trump’s criticism turned a migrant caravan into a spectacle, with day-by-day media coverage of the journey. That episode caused a spat between the United States and Mexico and was used to justify a deployment of National Guard troops to the border.
This time, Mexico said it intends to stop the caravan.
When the migrants arrive at Mexico’s southern border, “the migration personnel will review compliance with the legal requirements, and those who do not comply, will not be allowed entry,” the National Institute of Migration, the government’s migration agency, said in a statement Tuesday.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in a statement Monday that the current caravan “is what we see day-in and day-out at the border as a result of well-advertised and well-known catch-and-release loopholes.”
“As we have said time and again, until Congress acts, we will continue to have de facto open borders that guarantee future ‘caravans’ and record numbers of family units entering the country illegally,” Waldman said.
By “catch-and-release,” the administration refers to the common practice by U.S. immigration authorities of briefly detaining migrants and asylum seekers before releasing them with ankle bracelets while their immigration cases are pending. From the last caravan, a few hundred people applied for asylum in the United States, but it is unclear how many remain in the country or whether any were granted asylum.
This time around, the migrant caravan appears to be even larger than before, with estimates as high as 3,000 people, according to volunteers working with the group. Some migrants say they expect to settle in Mexico, but most intend to reach the United States, with many hoping to apply for asylum. Traveling in a large group offers additional safety for what is a dangerous journey through Mexico; it also saves people thousands of dollars they might otherwise pay for a smuggler.
“I saw the caravan on the news,” said Maria Amparo Gutierrez Garcia, 24, who left behind her 7-year-old daughter in Honduras to join the migrants with her husband. “In the same instant, I decided to come. I didn’t want to miss this chance.”
After the standoff at the border, the migrants walked into Esquipulas and convened at a Catholic school, where church volunteers handed out sandwiches and plates of pasta. Soon after their arrival, at least three migrants, including two children, were loaded into ambulances, apparently suffering from exhaustion or dehydration after hours of walking and waiting in the sun.
Joel Garcia, a 22-year-old construction worker from the Honduran coastal city of Tela, joined the caravan after being deported from Mexico last year during a previous attempt to reach the United States. He said gangs had killed members of his family and he could not earn enough to support his diabetic mother. He slipped out of the house on Saturday morning wearing flip-flops for the nearly 3,000-mile trip; someone later gave him a pair of socks.
“I left without telling my wife,” he said. “I didn’t want her to suffer.”
Garcia had teamed up with a new friend, Brian Sanchez, an 18-year-old high school graduate who aspired to work in IT but could not find a job in Honduras. Sanchez called his mother on Sunday to tell her he had joined the caravan.
“She said, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” he recalled. “But I want something better for me and my sister.”
These caravans are organized by migrant advocates and have taken place for the past several years to raise awareness about violent and impoverished conditions in Central America and Mexico. But usually they passed with little notice and in smaller numbers. During the previous caravan in April, the numbers dwindled by the time the migrants reached the U.S. border.
There was no immediate response from the Honduran government about Trump’s threat to cut funding. Honduras is expected to receive $66 million from the United States in fiscal 2019.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has reduced aid to Central America, and that has drawn criticism from leaders in the region. Hernández told Reuters last month that reduced aid “will obviously have repercussions,” including more immigration, because previous efforts were intended to “attack the migration problem at its root.”
In a speech last week, Vice President Pence thanked the Honduran president for his immigration efforts and said the United States was “grateful” Honduras had agreed to double its border police force from 400 to 800 people by 2020.
As the caravans have become more widely known, they are attracting larger crowds. Among those who entered Esquipulas on Monday were children and people with disabilities.
The towns they pass through in Central America and Mexico often give them warm receptions, with volunteers from the communities giving them donated supplies.
“People are giving us food out of the kindness of their hearts,” Sanchez said. “Only your President Donald Trump doesn’t like us.”
Kevin Sieff in Mexico City and Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this report.